Treadmill or Elliptical Trainer

We live in a society obsessed with losing weight and getting fit. In response there are countless products on the market that claim to get you in shape. Most are fads that come and go. For example, how many people are still working out with a Thigh Master. But, occasionally an exercise machine is designed that gets results. It promotes fitness and wellness. It helps both novice and fitness enthusiasts reach their exercise goals. It has ‘staying’ power!

The two most popular fitness machines that fit this qualification are treadmills and elliptical trainers. The tried and true treadmill has been around for years. It remains popular due to its appeal to both novice and seasoned athletes. It is a simple machine that requires no special skills, all you need to do is walk, jog or run.

Although relatively new in comparison to a treadmill, the elliptical trainer is growing in popularity. In shear numbers the treadmill outsells ellipticals, but by percentage the elliptical is gaining in sales. It offers the benefit of a total body workout without the impact.

How do treadmills compare with elliptical training equipment? What benefits do each machine offer? Could either be right for you?


Treadmills are the most popular fitness equipment. They are simple to use and provide an excellent cardiovascular workout. Treadmills allow you to walk, jog or run. In addition, they can simulate hill climbing.

In shear numbers running and walking are the most popular form of exercise. Whether you are a casual walker or a serious runner, a treadmill can accommodate your exercise needs. By setting the speed and incline you can adjust your cardio workout to any level – from casual walking to heart pounding running.

Most power treadmills offer a number of pre-set programs and intensity levels from which to choose. On these particular machines, you may program in your personal information (i.e. age, weight, height, fitness level, etc.). Then, you may choose a pre-set program (such as ‘killer hill,’ ‘interval training’ or ‘weight-loss’), and the unit will automatically adjust the workout to fit your specifications.

You can bypass the pre-set programs and manually adjust the incline, speed, and the time yourself. And, even if you’ve chosen a pre-set program, you have the option of changing the incline level or speed level at any time.

Running on a treadmill with a nicely cushioned running surface provides less impact on the knees, shins, ankles, back, and joints than does running on pavement. As a result, the runner who uses a treadmill is less likely to sustain a running injury than a runner who runs upon a harder surface. (Nonetheless, a runner’s body will still experience impact when the foot lands on the belt.)

Outdoors, you could possibly trip over a rock or twist your ankle in an unseen hole in the ground. You don’t have to worry about unseen road or trail hazards when exercising on a treadmill. You need only maintain your rhythm on the moving belt.

Treadmills not only efficiently burn calories, but their impact reducing surfaces decrease the chances for injuries.

Elliptical Trainers

Elliptical trainers are relatively new to the fitness equipment industry. They have increased in popularity during the last few years, and the rate of growth is surpassing treadmills. But, do they deliver what they promise – a low impact, total body workout?

Elliptical trainers allow the user to burn a similar number of calories as they would from walking or jogging – but without the risk of injury to the back, knees, hips, or ankles. The difference in comparison to a treadmill is your feet never leave the foot pedals.

As a result, an elliptical is very low-impact and significantly reduces the pressure on your joints. In fact, whereas exercising on a treadmill requires your body to absorb the impact of walking or running, exercising on an elliptical can be compared to running in midair. Running can result in 2.5x your body weight impacting a treadmill.

Because of the low impact quality of an elliptical trainer, this machine may be the best choice for older people or individuals who are recovering from injuries. That is the obvious reason ellipticals are so popular with us baby boomers. Our joints are starting to tell us they’ve had enough.

Elliptical machines mimic the normal elliptical motion of the foot, the extension of the leg, and the rotation of the hip during walking or running. This motion uses all the leg muscles, giving you a total lower-body workout.

But what makes an elliptical workout so enticing is you also get a upper body workout (unlike the treadmill, which works only the lower body)! As the feet go through their elliptical motion, the hands grip the moving handlebars, exercising the arms. The movement of the dual handlebars mimics cross-country skiing. This particular type of upper body workout will not result in a bodybuilder’s physique. However, because you are including the upper 30% of your body in your workouts, the results will be more efficient exercise in less time.

Because elliptical trainers DO work the upper and lower body simultaneously, the heart rate climbs more quickly. Thus, less time is required to achieve more results. The amount of energy expended is optimized. As the legs are being worked, the back, shoulders, chest, biceps, and triceps are also working…making it possible to burn more calories in less time. (An optimal workout need only be about 20-30 minutes long, if you apply the right amount of resistance.)

Another advantage of elliptical trainers are the foot pedals can be worked in a forward or reverse direction. When you change the direction of the pedals, you’ll target your lower body in different ways. It is nice to be able to add versatility to your elliptical workouts, and such a change works to ensure optimal training of the leg muscles.

The intensity level can be adjusted on elliptical equipment to fit your personal level of fitness. Resistance may be added as desired to increase the workload on your legs throughout the forward or backward stride. With such an efficient workout, you can say ‘goodbye’ to flabby thighs and derrieres!

Studies show working out on an elliptical trainer can trick the body into believing it is working easier than it actually is. Therefore, as you’re burning more calories in less time on an elliptical trainer, your body feels as though it doesn’t have to work as hard to achieve its goals. This phenomenon is known as the “Rate of Perceived Exertion.”

An elliptical device is safe to use (i.e. it stops when you stop). It uses very little electricity and is economical to operate. Because of its low impact, there is less wear and tear of the machine, making maintenance quite low. It has a small footprint, so it takes up less floor space than other fitness equipment. And, as with the treadmill, it allows you to exercise in a controlled environment for more comfort and convenience.

And the Winner Is!

Which is better, a treadmill or elliptical trainer? Both give an excellent cardio workout and when used regularly will burn unwanted calories.

For a walking or running devotee, the treadmill is the machine of choice. Even if you prefer the great outdoors, the treadmill allows you to continue your favorite sport all year long and in the most inclement weather. A treadmill will reduce injuries since you workout on a flat surface that is cushioned. It can add variety to your workout through various challenging programs. And with heart rate control you can your exercising by allowing your heart rate to control the level of exertion.

The appeal of an elliptical is the combined upper and lower body workout, and the low-impact. You exercise more muscle groups, while avoiding the kind of impact that can result in injuries. For those of us whose knees or ankles just can’t take it any longer, the elliptical trainer is the obvious choice.

So which one do you choose? Depending upon your preference and needs either can be an excellent choice.